Components of an Effective Consulting Proposal

Colleges and universities increasingly look to consultants to help with strategic issues and troubling situations. But, unless the fee is likely to exceed six figures, they frequently forego a “Request for Proposal” (RFP). Instead, they rely on verbal conversations, and primarily use word of mouth to identify potential consultants. Agreements about what the consultant will be expected to do can be as short as a handshake.

That higher education would part with its money so easily is a surprise. What is less of  a surprise is how frequently the short proposals submitted by consultants in lieu of an RFP become problematic.

At the heart of a consulting assignment is an understanding of what the client school wants to achieve, and an appreciation for the culture within which the college operates. When brief conversations between client school and prospective consultants lead to even briefer written descriptions in proposals, there is too much room for unwarranted assumptions to be made. Consequently, misunderstandings arise which sour relationships, no matter the original good intentions on both sides.

To ensure the success of the consulting assignment, and in the absence of an RFP, it is incumbent for the prospective consultant to write a detailed proposal.  The components of such a proposal are as follows:

  • Project title
  • Proposal summary
  • Name of College and Client
  • Name of Consultant
  • Current situation (based on preliminary conversation with College)
  • Background to the situation (based on preliminary conversation with College)
  • Project scope and deliverables
  • Expected results of the project
  • Consultant approach
    • Information requested in advance of campus visit
    • Interviewee list for on-campus visit
  • Proposed timeframe and schedule
    • Tasks
    • Location (e.g., on-site, telephone)
    • Proposed dates
  • Fees, expenses and terms
  • Consultant biography
  • References

A good proposal might be 6-8 pages long. It takes a significant amount of thought and time, and there is usually no guarantee it will be accepted. But it is actually easier to get hired with a well-considered proposal. Clients know what they’re getting and for what the consultant will be held accountable. This gives the college a sense of confidence that the consultant knows what she is doing, and has realistic expectations for how long it will take.

In the experience of the Curran Consulting Group, time spent on the proposal avoids “scope creep”, and leads to a much better result for all parties.

Sheila Curran is the Curran Consulting Group President and Chief Strategy consultant. She has used the model described in this post for over five years, with great success.

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